Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet No. 19
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by Gavin J. Grant, Kelly Link
Category: Fantasy Hugo Award Nominee
Description: Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is a twice-yearly zine of eclectic fiction and so on. No. 19, our 10-year anniversary issue, has wrestlers on the cover and features such wonderful authors as Ray Vukcevich, Daniel A. Rabuzzi, Dennis Nau, Nancy Jane Moore, Cara Spindler & David Erik Nelson, Kara Kellar Bell, Andrew Fort, Anna Tambour, and Carol Emshwiller.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press/Small Beer Press, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: May 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [172 KB]
Reading time: 101-142 min.
"Tiny but celebrated."--The Washington Post
"Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet never fails to hook me."--New Pages
1. Nobody Knows
Nobody knows how many rooms there are in the mansion. We don't even know if it really is a mansion. We call it that because the room we share has a very high ceiling, and there is a carved cornice made up of chubby winged children playing stringed instruments. Harps, of course, but way over there is a little fellow with what looks like a guitar. None of us can get close enough to him to confirm that it really is a guitar. Maybe it's a shadow or a spider web.
Nobody knows how we came to be here precisely. It may have been something we said. We know we are criminals. We know this is our punishment. We also know we are alive. This isn't Hell, as Hell is usually understood.
There are no windows in our room, and the door cannot be opened. The light comes from frosted panels in the ceiling. After lights out, no matter how hard you look, you can never detect even a glimmer in the absolute darkness. But we think there must be many tub rooms just like this one, maybe hundreds of them, because you can hear lives being lived elsewhere through the walls and beneath the floor.
* * * *
Our room might have been a parlor or dining room at one time. It's big enough to contain the five of us and our tubs. Our tubs are also items you'd likely find in an old mansion. I'm thinking Victorian or maybe earlier. They are claw-footed white porcelain bathtubs--one for each of us. When you run your hand down the outside of your tub it's like the cool smooth belly of some animal--a cow or a horse, or maybe it's more like a big porcelain pig with little stubby legs ending in claws. Well, I suppose pigs don't have claws. All of our claws are different. I can tell that by sneaking quick looks at the claws on the tubs of the other men. It's a bad idea to be openly staring at the claws of another man's tub. It would probably cause a fight and we'd all get shocked. But from the little peeks I've taken over time, I know that the claws do not seem to be based on the same animal. It's like they went to a used tub store when they built this place with all of its windowless rooms filled with tubs and men in tubs.
We sit naked in cold water and carefully avoid looking at one another. Sometimes our gazes do cross, though. Sometimes it's on purpose, and a huge fight breaks out, if you can call grown naked men sitting in Victorian bathtubs shouting at one another a fight. We seldom get physical, but it is not unknown. When that happens someone somewhere flips a switch or twists a dial and shocks us all senseless.
* * * *
3. Rule Number One
Rule number one is that only one man can be out of the tubs at a time. This arrangement is supposed to give each of us time to squat over the hole in the far corner and do our business. If more than one of us touches the floor at one time, we all get shocked.
They don't care if we share our food or not. It comes through a food slot at the bottom of the locked door one tray at a time spaced out by an interval calculated to give the eater time to get his tray and get back into his tub. The five of us have come to an uneasy truce about food. We all know that if someone doesn't get his, he will take every opportunity to jump out of his tub while someone else is already out and shock us all.
Our ancestors might have looked like this--stringy hair and ragged beards, no animal skin clothes yet, no fire, no tools. But they would've had women, too, and no tubs, and their Rule Number One probably wouldn't have involved getting shocked.
* * * *
4. Holding Down the Dead Guy
The reason we know we are alive is because one of us isn't. He died some time in the indefinite past, and now he's really stinking up the place. We have discovered the smell is dampened a little if someone holds him under the surface of the water in his tub.
We take turns. One of us gets out of his tub and runs to the hole and does his business if business is what he needs to do and then hot foots it over to the dead guy's tub and pushes him under the surface. When it was my turn for the first time, I discovered pushing the dead guy under was like trying to hold an inner tube under the surface when you're a kid and your dad gives you an old patched tire tube and lets you go down to the gas station and get it blown up. You roll it up the hill and down the other side and throw it into the pond and jump in after it, and your hands slap down on it just in time to keep you from going under, because you don't know how to swim yet, but you almost do almost. Soon you'll let go of the tube, but for now you can push it under, but you can't keep it there for long. It pushes back just like the dead guy. I always look carefully at his face under the water. I used to think he looked scared, but now I think he's developing a smile.
* * * *
5. My Feet
It's Digby's turn to hold down the dead guy. I'm settled into my tub with the cold water lapping around my chin, and I see my feet rise from the surface down there by the knobs like two sea monsters. Maybe they're brothers. Maybe they're lovers. I would be the one on the left. Maria would be on the right. Maria always had an unattractive streak of the right in her, but I loved her anyway. We would still be together, I'm sure, if I had not said something and been seized, beaten up, and dumped in this tub. I nuzzle my right foot with my left, and she slaps playfully at me and moves away but then floats back looking shyly the other way and then boldly leaps on me, and we make a tremendous splash! The alarm sounds one sharp warning. It's like being jabbed in the ear with a stick. Or both ears at once. Two sticks. Splashing is not allowed.
Why splashing is not allowed is a mystery. It's not like they're worried about the water that flies up and out over the edge. Surely we drip more than that from our bodies when it's our turn to get our food or do our business at the hole in the corner. I think it must have something to do with attention. They want us to be paying attention to the here and now. A playful splash probably indicates that we have gone off in our minds to somewhere more pleasant with Maria who even now rises back to the surface and peeks up at me.
The others are muttering curses at me for that splash and the resulting sharp blast of the warning buzzer. I hope two of them don't go crazy at once and rush me or we'll all get shocked. If they conspire to send just one man after me in revenge, I'll leap out of my tub, and we'll all get shocked.
"I won't be pushed around!" I say just loudly enough so everyone can hear me. Whoever watches us doesn't really care if we speak loudly, but we've noticed that when there is a lot of activity, the chances of a random shock are much greater. It's like we get noticed, and whoever is watching gets bored and sooner or later shocks us just to see our teeth chatter.
Sometimes we talk about past crimes and plots. We go into great detail. We name names. We hope we will say something that will please the people who watch and listen. This strategy has its dangers. If they decide that one of us is just making stuff up, we all get shocked.
Sometimes we sit on the edges of our tubs. You'd think we'd spend a lot of time on the edge, but these are not your modern tubs with flat edges. The edges of these old tubs are artfully rounded and that's pretty hard on your naked butt. Sometimes when I'm sitting on the edge, I use my hands to raise my butt up a little, but who can stand on their hands like that for long? No one. A trained gymnast could only do it for a little while. Then it's back into the water. After trying to get comfortable on the edge, it's a big relief to just relax down into the tub again. It's not a pure feeling, though, because the water is so cold.